Riley Hunter shovels up a dead turtle as Lillie Andrews supervises during Junior Girl Scout Troop 1947's road survey in Orrington on Tuesday. The troop was completing a community service project designed to educate and slow down motorists who might not be aware that nesting turtles often cross the road in certain areas. Credit: John Holyoke

ORRINGTON, Maine — Standing around a picnic table at Bob’s Kozy Korner store, the local gathering spot that sits at the center of five intersecting rural roads, Danielle D’Auria gave a troop of Junior Girl Scouts their marching orders on Tuesday evening before sending the girls out in search of turtles.

“Gloves,” she said, holding up a pair. “If you want to pick something up and look at it closer, you can. And if you think it’s a turtle and you can’t identify it, you can put it in a baggie and we can look at it later.”

The chorus of responses was predictable.

“Eewww!” eight fifth-graders exclaimed.

Yes, Tuesday’s mission was a bit on the “eewww-y” side. D’Auria, a state wildlife biologist who serves as one of the troop leaders for Orrington-based Troop 1947, told the girls that part of their community service project called for a road survey to see if they could find any turtles. Living … or dead.

Then they’d itemize their finds, fill out some paperwork, log information into a computer program, and pass it along to scientists who track this kind of data.

“One of the girls had the idea to help the turtles, because they see turtles get squished [by cars] every year, and think it’s extremely sad,” D’Auria said. “[They wanted] to learn more about turtles and see if they could do anything to make people more aware of turtles and get them to slow down and pay more attention to turtles crossing the road.”

Credit: John Holyoke

All of which forces a playful interviewer to ask three of the scouts a version of the age-old question: Why did the turtle cross the road?

“Sometimes there’s turtles on the other side, or a pond on the other side, and they have to get to the pond,” scout Addison Deveau said.

Good answer. But there’s more.

“They [might] want to nest on the other side of the road, where it’s better nesting grounds, and it’s easier to dig a hole to lay their eggs,” scout Ella D’Auria added.

Another good answer. But there’s a joker in every group. In this troop, it may be Abigail Stephens.

“To get to the other side,” Stephens said with a grin.

The troop met with the state wildlife biologist who focuses on turtles before launching their project in April, Danielle D’Auria said, and the girls learned a lot about how turtles live. Then they put up posters in a few local establishments and post on local Facebook groups seeking public input on a simple question: Where do you see turtles cross the road?

Armed with the answers to their question, the girls moved on to another phase of the project and began placing warning signs near the spots that turtles have traditionally been seen.

Credit: John Holyoke

Danielle D’Auria said turtles start making their egg-laying trips across roadways in June, and motorists in certain areas should expect to see turtles through July and into the month of August.

The scouts said they hope motorists notice the signs and heed their warnings.

“If you do see signs up that have turtles on them, maybe [drivers could] be more careful around them,” Stephens said. “If you see one, slow down to make sure that they’ll cross safely.”

Ella D’Auria did say that she doesn’t want drivers to stop paying attention to the road, though.

“I think [drivers] should slow down at this time of year and not be watching for turtles, but be cautious of what might be on the road and be ready to stop if they have to,” she said.

Deveau’s warning was more direct.

“Go slow, because there’s turtles,” she said. “And you don’t want to smoosh the turtles because the might go extinct, and we don’t want that.”

The troop is seeking a bronze award, the highest award a Junior Girl Scout can earn, according to Danielle D’Auria. Then they’ll bridge their way into Cadets, the next step up the scouting ladder.

On Tuesday’s survey of two different sections of roads in Orrington, the girls found one dead painted turtle, which was documented, then shoveled into the tall grass just off the road.

Deveau said she’d seen another — a snapping turtle — at her home earlier in the day.

“It laid some eggs before it left, and then it ran off, faster than a regular turtle,” Deveau said, apparently contradicting the age-old reputation of turtles as anything but fast.

Deveau said the troop learned plenty about turtles, and she said she found a lot of things to like about them.

“They’re cute, and they’ve been here since dinosaurs,” she said. “They’ve been here a long time, and we want to make sure they’re here longer.”

And Ella D’Auria said that motorists can do even more to help turtles, should they encounter them on the road.

“First, slow down and try to go around,” she advised. “But if you can, I’d stop and move it across to the side it’s going [toward].”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...